IT problems are undermining joint working between the NHS and social services.
Joint assessments, whereby information gleaned from clients is shared between health and social care teams, is just one of the recent steps to try to ensure vulnerable people do not
Many of the issues around joint working have been cultural, but once the human barriers to teamwork have been overcome the practicalities of technology and systems still have to be addressed.
This would have been complicated enough
before the Department for Education & Skills seized responsibility for children's social care from the Department of Health. Now NHS and local government staff are waiting for the unlikely scenario of two government departments successfully implementing a complex, nationwide IT system integrating the NHS and councils.
The difficulties cannot be separated from the health funding crisis, primary care trust reorganisation or the NHS's National Programme for IT.
Funding pressures have led local IT spending to be squeezed, so that in many places NHS computing infrastructure is behind that of local government, inhibiting the stitching together of local solutions.
Meanwhile the array of problems besetting the NHS's national IT programme, automating systems such
as patient records and appointment bookings, means joint working with social services is viewed as a lowly
priority compared with more basic requirements.
Meanwhile the DfES and DH are failing to co-ordinate leadership for the project. Will they accept any responsibility if system issues are cited the next time a tragic failure in joint working is exposed?
The prize of joint working is great. In the south-west the two services have demonstrated that savings of millions of pounds could be achieved, while client care would be improved. In the current health policy melee, joint working should not be forgotten.